The Southern Baptist Convention has in recent years taken a loud and insistent stand on the urgent need for “racial reconciliation.” Many of its most prominent pastors and leaders, such as Al Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper, Jarvis J. Williams, and many, many others, continually preach that racial segregation is a wicked sin – for white people, that is. They tell us that segregated neighborhoods, schools, and social groups are evidence that the vast majority of white people are guilty of hating their non-white neighbors, especially blacks, and that God is not pleased with this terrible situation, because He absolutely despises racism.
But segregated neighborhoods, schools, and social groups aren’t the worst evidence of the evil hatred that lurks in the hearts of white people in America. No, far more shameful and disgusting is that our evangelical churches are largely segregated. These SBC leaders say that this dishonors Christ and denies the power of the gospel. They constantly quote Martin Luther King’s famous statement that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.
Which is complete nonsense. It may have been true in 1965, but these days, tens of thousands of majority-white churches have lots of black, brown, and yellow members. Not only are non-whites warmly welcomed at the vast majority of evangelical churches, most predominantly white churches these days actively seek to recruit non-white members. There probably aren’t 100 churches in the entire country that would refuse membership to a black or other non-white on the grounds of race. There probably aren’t even 50. If churches were refusing membership to non-whites, we’d be hearing about it constantly. In 2011, when a tiny church in the backwoods of Kentucky told an interracial couple they weren’t welcome at their services, it made national headlines for a week (and the church quickly caved).
Obviously, not only is racial segregation in churches not even close to being common in America; it essentially doesn’t exist. Yet Piper, Mohler, Moore, Williams, and many other SBC leaders and Gospel Coalition authors tell us that the fact that the vast majority of white churches already have or would gladly welcome non-white members doesn’t mean our churches aren’t segregated. No, having a few black or brown people as members is mere window dressing that does nothing to address the problem of racism, or bring about racial reconciliation, any more than a Band-Aid could heal a gangrenous foot.
Much, much more will be required in order to bring about true reconciliation, according to these prophets of the Diversity Gospel. Until a white church in an urban area has a membership that mirrors the racial demographics of the city, it’s still practicing segregation. If Jackson, Mississippi, is 80% black, then the Christian churches in Jackson should also be 80% black. And we’re told that even if a white church is welcoming enough to non-whites that they become a significant percentage of the membership, that’s still not enough. White worship styles must give way to black worship styles, or a multi-ethnic church is merely a façade, a mechanism for whites to practice cultural imperialism by imposing their white culture on non-whites, thereby perpetuating racism, not eliminating it.
That’s not enough, either, though. Long before blacks or other non-whites make up a significant percentage of a church’s membership, the church has an obligation to fill its leadership with non-whites. Furthermore, we’re told that white people need to be silent and let black people teach them about racism and how to overcome it, because whites are the ones who have sinned in this matter, and black people are the victims, and we need to understand their pain and humble ourselves before them. As Al Mohler said, as a white Christian, he has no right even to respond to black Christians accusing white Christians of racism.
It sounds as if the SBC is really serious about this racial reconciliation business. SBC leaders write and preach about it endlessly. They issue apology after apology to blacks for how wicked our white ancestors were. But how serious are they? If we judge them by their actions and not their words, it’s clear they’re not very serious at all.
Sure, they make it a point to invite some black preachers to their big conferences. They even elected a black man as leader of the SBC for a couple years. But beyond this mere tokenism, what else are they doing? Well, once a year the SBC observes “Racial Reconciliation Sunday.” It’s common for SBC pastors to devote their sermons on this day to the wicked sin of white racism, which they assure us is rampant, and the urgent need for racial reconciliation. Some SBC churches hold joint services with black congregations on Racial Reconciliation Sunday.
So racism is a huge problem, with tens of millions of white Christians being guilty of it, and racial reconciliation is a gospel imperative…and SBC churches devote one day a year to it? That doesn’t sound like they really mean it.
If the SBC and its leaders really believe what they preach about racial reconciliation, and breaking down barriers between races, and demonstrating to the world the unity of all believers in Christ, they need to start putting their money where their mouth is. A few token preachers at the TGC convention and a joint service with a black church once a year aren’t going to cut it.
No, it’s time for the SBC to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. How? Well, the SBC is the largest Baptist denomination in America. But there’s another very large Baptist denomination, the National Baptist Convention, which has 31,000 churches and 7.5 million members. It’s the “black Baptist” denomination. It’s an evangelical denomination – compare their What We Believe page to the SBC’s Basic Beliefs page to see just how similar these two Baptist denominations are. And they’re strong on social issues, too. National Baptist military chaplains are prohibited from performing same-sex marriages by the denomination.
So why are there two separate but equal evangelical Baptist denominations in America? There are no major doctrinal differences between the SBC and the NBC. It’s true that some NBC churches have female pastors, but that’s not a problem, because, while the SBC did pass some official “resolutions” stating that only men should be ordained, according to the official SBC website, these resolutions “are not binding upon local churches. Each church is responsible to prayerfully search the Scriptures and establish its own policy.”
Furthermore, the very reason a “black Baptist” denomination exists in the first place is because of the history of racism and segregation in the Southern Baptist Church. The NBC was founded in 1880, led by freed slaves who were tired of being treated as second-class Christians by the racist Southern Baptist churches.
If there were ever an opportunity for the SBC to demonstrate that it’s sincere with all its talk about the urgent need to pursue racial reconciliation, this would be it. Here we have two evangelical Baptist groups, one black and one white, which are only separate because of the SBC’s history of racism. Sure, the SBC issues “apologies” and “statements of repentance” for their history of racial segregation, but that’s just talk.
Why don’t they stop just talking about reconciling with their black brethren, and actually reconcile with them? If they’re really serious, why doesn’t the SBC dissolve itself, and join the National Baptist Convention? Yes, it would be a radical move, but as the SBC prophets of the Diversity Gospel constantly remind us, racial reconciliation isn’t easy. It will require a lot of sacrifice when we move past mere words and occasional tokenism.
It’s time for the Southern Baptist Convention to get serious about racial reconciliation, and demonstrate that they’re actually repentant of their history of racism that created two racially divided Baptist denominations. Until they do, the whole world will know they don’t really mean a word they say.
Of course, I don’t expect the SBC to dissolve itself and submit to their black Baptist brethren. But from now on, any time you hear a Southern Baptist going on about the pressing need for racial reconciliation, simply ask him when the Southern Baptist Convention plans to reconcile with the National Baptist Convention.
And until the SBC does dissolve and join the NBC, no one should pay any heed to all their empty words.